Assignment Post Week 9 (Part 2)

Please also post at least 2 thoughtful comments about the Marshall McLuhan article we began in class, The Relation of Environment to Anti-Environment (originally published as an independent article in the Windsor University Review in 1966). FYI, some of his other influential writings include the books War and Peace in the Global Village and The Medium is the Massage.

Here are some considerations:

  • Explain and discuss the claim on page 87: “When an environment becomes an object of attention it assumes the character of an anti-environment or an art object.” How does this inform your decisions about art making, esp. performance work?
  • What is McLuhan’s essential argument? How has he developed and explicated his thesis?
  • Discuss an art work, perhaps one of your own, in the context of this reading, particularly the function of anti-environment. What elements are qualifying the work as such and what purpose does this serve?


Filed under Assignment Post, Readings

22 responses to “Assignment Post Week 9 (Part 2)

  1. ladywood

    When an environment, such as a house, becomes more of an art piece, and a room becomes an installation, we cross the line between normal life an art. This is what McLuhan means by his above excerpt. An artist named Johnson created a house made of glass, which took on the same idea. “Glass House” was the first of its kind where people began to see normal life as art. This made artists think and wonder if everything in normal life could be art. They say art can be in everything from a dirty bed room to a laundry-strewn wash room.

  2. ladywood

    I question whether or not an environment can be a work of art. On first glance, my room littered in clothes, books, notes and shoes with an unmade bed and a very messy desk wouldn’t be considered art. However, I can see my desk as a continuous performance art piece. It is the place where I spend most of my time and where all my artistic magic happens. My computer, notes for classes and essays, wedding information, lip glosses, cups of forgotten tea, candles, books, drawings and pictures cover the redwood of the large desk and are in constant change. To me, as cluttered as it may be, it is beautiful and comforting, as I feel art should be. So, I feel McLuhan’s claim that an environment can become a piece of art when attention is drawn to it is correct.

  3. cleasure

    According to, the definition of environment is “the aggregate of surrounding things, conditions, or influences . . .” If this is the definition of environment, then I would assume that Marshall McLuhan’s “anti-environment” means that the “surroundings, condition, or influences” become the focus or at least are incorporated into the critical attentions of the audience. An anti-environment could be an art object but I also believe their must be some intention of bringing the environment to the forefront of focus. The anti-environment can be functional both as a singular art work or as a key part of an existing work of art.

  4. cleasure

    McLuhan’s argument revolves in breaking down a situation to include both an environment and an anti-environment. The environment includes everything that a person can see or recognize as a part of the situation. The anti-environment is that which cannot be seen directly but is said to exist with in the situation. As McLuhan develops this argument, we see that what he is really referencing is the development of technology into radio and television and the hierarchy of reality that humans form around these media. For instance, he mentions that in the past only the most concrete things were said to be in existence but with the development of technology, the environment and the anti-environment are reversed. The concrete, visual can be second in existence to a radio broadcast, even though the broadcast is not tangible. In reference to art, he means that painting and drawing are coming second to less concrete works of performance art.

  5. proverbs3v18

    McLuhan’s article was quite difficult to understand. I took notes while reading and this is what I ended up getting:

    (84) New art creates new environments, ways of thinking, acting, interacting. Basically, new things are judged by the old standards. Older forms of art were integrated into the environment whereas more recent forms act independently or reference the environment.

    (85) “…human technology had tended strongly towards the furtherance of detachment and objectivity, detribalization and individuality.” “The awareness and opposition of the individual are in these circumstances as irrelevant as they are futile.” We are the borg, resistance is futile.
    “The professional tends to specialize and to merge his being uncritically in the mass.”  meaning that the professional artist caters to the whims of the masses to survive.

    (85-86) Science and Art comprise the dipstick of society – maybe we need to change the oil? These new things are good because they allow us to grow. The processes the new put in motion are part of the eternal flux of the world – and there is always someone at either end of the spectrum (old ways/new ways), everything changing into new fads and movements. Artists are the pioneers of the new environments (which create new ways of thinking, acting, interacting), but are always tied/reaching/looking back to the old to build/pull material from.

  6. proverbs3v18


    (87) Anything new breaks or strays from the normal environment (becomes anti-environment), and thus garners attention and promotes conflict. In reference to bell-curve, the new is the 10 percent, the 90 being the “don’t rock the boat” mentality. We must keep moving forward and encourage the new.

    (89) “…they still have the illusion that the new developments are to be fitted into the old space or environment.” We cannot judge new things/art by old standards. Think outside the box.

    (90) New technologies create changes in environment and perspective of environment/living. They allow us to EXAMINE/study the world differently and open up new understanding, like a microscope for biology.

    (91) Art = nostalgia for the old things/ways?
    “When an environment is new, we perceive the old one for the first time.” You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone or something different/new comes along. This is why “…the need to perceive the environment becomes urgent.” Thus new arts and technologies that operate/exist outside of the normal environment/standards (are anti-environment) are good because they make us examine what we have/believe with a more critical eye – we need new and possibly right/wrong information/work to see views more clearly and understand better. “New environments reset our sensory thresholds.”

  7. molly

    I have to thank Cleasure, first of all for her second post, as it puts McCluhan’s wordy essay in English. Whether or not he’d agree with her description, I see what she means.

    The quote I found most useful in his essay was about the Balinese and their definition of art, “In a preliterate society art serves as a means of merging the individual and the environment, not as a means of training perception upon the environment.” (84).

    Art IS the environment in this case, and the tangible surroundings of their culture, not just a part of it and there is no intangible concept that the artist or museum curator says it carries with it and we all must understand because a plaque says so.

    This works well with performance art, I think, because it is a merging of the individual and environment. It is the de-labeling of art as “art for art’s sake” until not even the curator may know what to write on the plaque in the museum, if the performance ends up there. Art becomes the environment and the definition of art is no longer needed.

  8. molly

    The quote above about pushing environment into high intensity and making it become an object of observation and art reminds me of outstanding architectural structures such as the Kailasanatha Temple in India, the Baroque churches in Rome or the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.

    Sacred buildings, while they are a place of worship and prayer, become an environment worthy of awe and inspiration. They reflect their purpose and illustrate outstanding feats of artistic and architectural ingenuity of the human. the anti-environment is God and religion I suppose, and the environment, such as a Gothic Cathedral, is as close as one can get to making an intangible idea such as faith tangible. If anyone has been in a grand Cathedral, or even Shove Chapel in Colorado Springs, knows what I mean.

  9. desibrink

    oops, I posted my MuLuah’s essay in the wrong assignment post, so here it is again. 🙂

    Marshal MuLuah’s Relation of Environment to Anti-Enviornment was a really d-i-f-f-i-c-u-l-t read. His big words hurt my little brain.
    From what I think understand, his anti-environment ideas are basically environments that we recognize as environments, and therefore are anti-environments. Or, well, it made since in my head but I don’t think I can describe it very well.
    I believe its an interesting concept that artists and kids create these environments. I couldn’t tell if that was a compliment or an insult to artists.

  10. desibrink

    “When an environment becomes an object of attention it assumes the character of an anti-environment or an art object.”
    I think awareness is definitely a big part of making any kind of art. especially environmental awareness because its such an influential thing in our lives. If one is careful, they can use the environment as an object in their art as a means enhance the work. On the down side, sometimes if the environment isn’t taken into account, it may hinder whatever the artist is trying to do.

  11. trintiyblk

    In my Tactical Media class we had to do a project called Intervention of an Object. The kicker was that our object had to be in an environment that it is not normally associated with. The goal of the project was to have the viewer reassess the environment that the piece was located in so they would break the “normal” idea of that environment. For example: I created a child terrorist and put her in a playground. Death, destruction and hate are not normal ideas when people think about a playground. The norm is youth, worry-free play and happiness. Yet my piece presented the idea that a playground has been used for death and is not just a happy place.

  12. heidirides

    I would agree with McLuhan that environment is the world we see every day but don’t pay attention to and anti-environments are the small part of the world that we are paying attention to. It makes sense that that which we are focusing on or percieving be the art object. Art is something we recognize by periceving it as not the ordinary. This article really helped me come to a better definition of what seperates art from not art.

  13. heidirides

    I gather that all art functions as an anti-environment in terms of McLuhans definition. My artwork functions as an anti-environment by drawing attention to advertising. As McLuhan says, we are not supposed to pay attention to advertisement but rather merge with it, accepting it as part of the environment, which we do. We see hundreds if not thousands of advertisements everyday, but consciously address very few of them. My work becomes an anti-environment by causing the viewer to pay attention to the advertising we otherwise simply absorb everyday.

  14. kait

    “Today what is called Pop Art is the use of some object in our own daily environment as if it were anti-environmental.” Pop art seems to designate environmental artifacts into pieces of art, usually through an over exaggeration and repetition. McLuhan states that it takes an everyday object and creates it into an art piece by removing it from its environment and placing it into an anti-environment, i.e. a museum, gallery, etc, thus making it an art piece. The environment of object denotes its purpose.

  15. kait

    The role of anti-environment in an environment is to create opposition to the environments definitive nature in order to create meaning and purpose for the environment. Without annti-environment the environment would lack meaning. To every action there is an equal or opposite reaction being Newton’s law of motion. These seems to be true in relation to McLuhan understanding of the anti-environment.

  16. Isaiah D

    McLuhan talks about the anti environment stating that “Without an anti-environment, all environments are invisible. The role of the artist is to create anti-environments as means of perception and adjustment.” I believe that we all have the ability to see the anti environment every where we go, even in the chain restaurant. We have to realize and change our perception of how we view things and what their materialistic qualities are. By doing so we can see the anti environment everywhere.

  17. cmndrkeen

    I think I agree with McLuhan about anti-environment, at least in most cases. Other artists like Manzoni and Duchamp seemed to have their take on this idea as well. Manzoni signing nude models and calling them art, Duchamp signing a urinal and calling it art. They brought attention to those everyday objects and called them art.

    A classmate of mine a couple semesters ago did an installation on campus for our 3D class that was influenced by this idea as well. He took everyday objects from nature, like dandy-lions, pine needles, and leaves, sandwiched them between two panes of glass to create a sort of “frame,” signed as the artist, and placed them back into the environment.

  18. cmndrkeen

    Oops. Each of those paragraphs above are supposed to be their own comment.

  19. thehankfuldread

    anti-environment is quite a concept, but, once i wrapped my head around it, it became quite interesting. i liked that McLuhan said something to the extent of, you are unable to see an environment, unless an anti-environment is present. the balance is a nice thought. though, i would say that this is just using unnecessary language to talk about things that we already do. i feel that “anti-environment” could be seen solely as context, or as acknowledgment of one’s surroundings or environments. i feel that he makes it out to be a deeper, more abstract theory than it has to be, or than it really is. it’s called awareness.

  20. thehankfuldread

    i think that being aware is the first step to seeing good art. or at least interesting art. because like McLuhan says, it is there, it just has to be recognized and named (or provided an anti-environment). if you pay attention to life, and just note when you see, hear, feel, taste or touch something interesting in any way, you have experienced art. it might not be art that someone made, or even that anyone else would consider art, but i think if it is interesting, it is art to me, almost regardless of context. so, if we as artists are able to provide this little window for others as well, i think that is what he is talking about with anti-environment.

  21. elpetty84

    One of the things that i found interesting about the McLuhan article was how he discusses some of what he calls the “new environments”, compared the old ones, one of which consists of the TV which according to McLuhan is “an electric circuit that takes as its content the earlier environment, the photograph and the movie in particular. It is basically an interplay between the old and the new environments that there is generated an innumerable series of problems and confusions.” Then they go into more detail about what kind of problems have developed with children since the installation of the TV in household and in the classroom. In regards to what “anti-environment”, which is anything that consists of the arts and sciences in combination with the liberal arts that controls the scientific environment. The only project that i can think of that would be considered an anti-environment was my very first project when all i used was power point and other visuals. As opposed to when i was out in nature taking pictures or videotaping two very different environments. Basically anytime I immense myself in nature I am not in an anti-environment.

  22. elpetty84

    The quote on page 87, at first was hard to decipher and or interpret, then i read on and the quote was throughly explained. It basically stated that “that when the social environment is stirred up to exceptional intensity by technological change therefore leading to it becoming a focus of much attention, such as war and revolution.” This quote reminds me of the time when i was trying to do my videotaping in the library and the stretch of walkway between the library and the Overlook Cafe, but it is was too cluttered with people and I had to have permission to videotape in the cafe, which i did not have. Another example was Heidi’s project when she posed as a Walmart employee handing out some questionable fliers in front of the store and was eventually escorted off of the property, because a guest complained. That in itself completely disrupted by asking to leave what was considered to be her performance space. It was after hearing about this i have learned to choose my performance spaces more carefully.

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